TOKYO -- The population of Japan decreased for the seventh consecutive year and at the fastest pace since the current survey started in 1968.
According to data released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications on Wednesday, Japan had a population of 125,891,742 as of Jan. 1, marking a decrease of 271,834 from a year earlier. The data does not include non-Japanese residents living in the country.
The number of births grew for the first time in two years to 1,010,046, up 6,492. But the number of deaths showed a faster increase of 25,833, reaching 1,296,144.
Despite the nation's population shrinkage, the combined number of residents in the four prefectures forming the Tokyo metropolitan area -- Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa -- increased nearly 110,000. In particular, the population of Tokyo is about to top 13 million for the first time as it gained about 86,000, hitting 12.97 million.
Population growth in urban areas has been accelerating in recent years due to the availability of job opportunities and commercial facilities.
Only six of Japan's 47 prefectures -- Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa, Aichi and Okinawa -- marked population increases.
In contrast with Greater Tokyo, the number of people living in two other major metropolitan regions -- the Kansai region that consists of Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Nara prefectures and the Nagoya area formed by Gifu, Aichi and Mie -- continued to decrease. An exodus of residents from the Kansai and Nagoya regions into Tokyo and its vicinity continues, partly due to the continued relocation of manufacturing plants from Kansai.
Hokkaido posted a shrinkage of 32,000, the most of all prefectures, with the population declining in 77% of all cities and wards and 88% of towns and villages.
Small rays of light
The central government is promoting regional revitalization programs to reverse the flow of people moving from rural areas to Tokyo. Those efforts saw success in 209 cities, wards, towns and villages that registered population gains for the third year in a row. While many of them are on the outskirts of large cities, it shows there are some municipalities achieving a net inflow of people through their own programs.
Nomi, a city in Ishikawa Prefecture, for example, launched a subsidy program in 2013 to help people starting new businesses, such as creator and cafe owner, secure homes and workspaces. The program has so far approved 11 applications. The city has also been promoting free medical care for residents up to 18 years old.
As a result, Nomi logged a population increase of 107 over the past three years to 49,050.
Among other examples, Awashimaura Village in Niigata Prefecture, with a population of 363, on Awashima Island in the Sea of Japan, began in fiscal 2013 to accept children from other locations to its local elementary and junior high schools. In fiscal 2015, 10 students enrolled under the program.
The number of registered foreign residents in Japan totaled 2,174,469 as of Jan. 1, an increase of 111,562 from a year earlier and the largest since 2013 when the current method of compiling data started.